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BRIDGMAN is a tidy small city of a little over 2,000 people on about three square miles, enjoying the benefits of sensible planning combined with prime Lake Michigan coast about an hour and a half from Chicago. The city has neither blockaded commercial development nor allowed it to run wild, with the result being a pleasant and prosperous community.
Weko Beach, municipally owned and beloved by generations of visitors, is renowned for its views and lovely hiking trails stretching into neighboring Warren Dunes State Park.. Boardwalks along the dunes, a restaurant, and concessions add to the convenience, and it’s one of the few beaches along this part of the coast with dog-friendly sections. There are free concerts in the summertime and local volunteers who play Taps at sunset every evening.
A water system upgrade in 1980 and sidewalks running from downtown to the beach are two of the modernizations that have made life in Bridgman more comfortable while retaining its classic small-town feel. Schools are high-performance and well-equipped, complete with an Olympic-sized pool. Its proximity to the many attractions of Harbor Country to the south and the city of St. Joseph to the north make Bridgman a popular choice for those who enjoy a blend of small-town living, cultural blessings, and convenience. Bridgman is also home to the Donald C. Cook nuclear power generating station.
BRIDGMAN’S BUSINESS DISTRICT is a mix of practicality and leisure-time fun, sometimes in the same places. There’s a Ben Franklin variety store with candy, gifts and games along with office supplies and hardware. At Captain Mike’s Family Fun Park, you can race go-carts and have water-cannon wars. The Beachside Bakery building has been a bakery for a century; in classic Southwest Michigan smart-growth style, it now has a Starbucks coffee shop. Right in town, you can shop for a living room suite or a car or get your dental work done.
There’s good Italian food at D’agostino’s, and all the comforts of a fine sports pub (plus some Southwestern treats) at the attached Navajo Lounge. Locals and campers alike enjoy the classic diner eats at the Olympus, from hearty breakfasts to fresh-baked blueberry pie. Chicago Cubs fans in particular will enjoy the pub grub and sports-minded atmosphere at the Getaway Grille and Cubbie Bar . And nothing finishes off a day at the beach better than a stop at a drive-in for burgers and fries and a shake at Mikey’s Drive-In- or great pizza from Roma’s- or maybe a freshly crafted mug of micro-brewery beer from Tapistry.
French explorers visited the area in the seventeenth century, but it wasn’t until the 1830s that a man named John Harner became the first permanent European resident. Sawmills and farms were the earliest businesses setting up shop in what was then called Lake Township.
In 1870, an ambitious and clever soul named George Bridgman planned out a post office and a whole new village about a half mile inland from Lake Township’s largest village of Charlottesville. Bridgman’s village was on the new railroad line, and Bridgman grew to engulf Charlottesville before too long. Fruit growing and plant nurseries became another source of prosperity for the locals.
After 1890, Russian and German immigrants seeking a good small-town life began flocking into Bridgman, finding work in the fruit orchards and nurseries or starting their own. By 1949, Bridgman residents decided they wanted to become an independent city and take control of their civic destiny. Many feel that they and their descendants have done an outstanding job of it.
There’s a Harding’s Market located right in Bridgman, and neighboring Stevensville has a Martin’s Super Market and Pharmacy and a Meijer. Twenty minutes away are the twin cities of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, where you’ll find boutique shopping and useful big-box stores. Hardware stores are ten minutes away, located in both Stevensville and Baroda. Bridgman has a public library and a farmers’ market down by the railroad tracks on summer Saturdays.
Lakeland Health Care operates both an acute care hospital and an outpatient health care clinic in St. Joseph. The nearest major airports are South Bend, Indiana, about forty-five minutes away, and Kalamazoo/Battle Creek an hour away; Southwest Michigan Regional Airport in Benton Harbor serves private, corporate, charter and cargo flights. Amtrak service to Chicago is available from either St Joseph or New Buffalo.
The Lost Dunes Golf Club offers members “golf the way it should be,” and there’s a public 18-hole course at Pebblewood. You’re only half an hour up the Red Arrow Highway from the elegant good times of the Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo.
BRIDGMAN PROPERTIES include sleek ultra-contemporary mansions nestled in the dunes, summer houses crafted of oak and stone with wraparound decks and fanciful designs, and surprisingly affordable condos in elegant wooded developments, an easy walk from the beach. The town also has several mid-price developments of newer homes so well-executed that even lifelong residents think they’re all right.